New methods needed to win grass-roots support for pipelines, panel says

The best way to win support for large pipeline projects is to develop grass-roots support along the routes, Kallanish Energy learns.

That may require going door to door to answer questions from pipeline neighbors and to win them over to your side, said Tom Ahern of Massachusetts-based Five Corners Strategy.

He was part of a panel discussion on dealing with pipeline opponents at the two-day Shale Insight conference in Pittsburgh. The conference was produced by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.

Engage as many people as you can as soon as you can, and that local grass-roots support will win over others and help you in the long run, Ahern said.

One of the best things energy companies can do is to conduct informal, kiosk-style open houses to avoid grandstanding by vocal and domineering opponents, he said.

Energy companies must realize attacks by pipeline critics should not be taken personally and that companies will not win everyone over to their side, Ahern said.

Companies should use social media and other tools to get their message across, he said.

How pipeline battles are waged has changed in the last 20 years, Ahern said.

Outsiders are now “parachuting in” and getting involved in pipeline fights, said Tom Murphy, co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research.

Social media has changed the rules on how the public views such projects, and explaining technical issues on social media is difficult, he said.

The fight is commonly not over the pipeline but over the fuel, natural gas, that some environmental groups say will worsen global warming, Murphy said.

Pipeline opponents are serious, well-funded and well-organized, said Dena Wiggins, CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association in Washington, D.C. Pipeline supporters need to be more vocal in supporting projects, she said.

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